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Australian Foreign Minister Hails East Timor PM's Resignation

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has hailed the resignation of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri of East Timor. Mr. Downer spoke at the margins of a summit in Paris that gathered leaders and top officials from France and 17 states of the Oceania region.

Foreign Minister Downer of Australia said the resignation of the East Timorese prime minister is a step forward in that state's ability to solve its own problems.

East Timor plunged into violence, after Prime Minister Alkatiri fired 600 soldiers. Australia has nearly 1,500 police and troops in the region trying to calm the situation.

Mr. Downer has been lobbying for French support to send a U.N. mission to East Timor to bring peace to the troubled state.

Even with Mr. Alkatiri's resignation, experts like David Camroux believe East Timor still needs U.N. support to help build basic infrastructure and state institutions in East Timor, which only became fully independent in 2002. An analyst on Southeast Asia at the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris, Camroux believes Australia is eager for French and European backing in putting the impoverished state back on its feet.

"I think there is a sense that its going to be a long term commitment," said David Camroux. "It is going to require lots of investment, and, therefore, there is a need to get the Europeans involved."

Instability in East Timor was only one of several issues addressed at the Paris summit. The Southeast Asian states attending the summit are some of the poorest in the world, and many fear the impact of sea-level rise and other potential fallouts of climate change.

France has not always had good relations with these states. Australia boycotted the last France-Oceania summit three years ago, partly because of lingering differences over French nuclear testing in the Pacific region. But, Monday, French President Jacques Chirac hailed, what he described as, a real hand-to-hand cooperation among France, Australia and New Zealand.

French control over its overseas territories, such as New Caledonia and Tahiti, has also been controversial. But Camroux, of the International Studies Center, says Paris is being viewed more favorably by other Southeast Asian states, particularly those looking for international assistance.